Community Center Is Not The Center

Community centers are widespread all around the world, but they are especially popular in Italy

Community centers are widespread all around the world, but they are especially popular in Italy, where they were first founded with the occupations organized by the extra-parliamentary left in the ’70s. According to a recent map published by the Interior Ministry, in Italy there are 165 community centers linked to the anarchist and the far left political areas. Most of them have a legal status, which means that the buildings are regularly owned or rented by someone, while 78 of them are occupied. With 27 and 24 respectively, Rome and Milan are the two cities with the highest number of community centers, followed by Turin (11), Naples and Florence (7).

The activities organized there are many, including art exhibitions, concerts, conferences and movie projections, but more in general their main purpose is to cover the voids left by the institutions. In this sense, the reception of migrants, refugees and homeless people or the preparation of meals at cheap prices are the most common activities. Normally, community centeres are deeply rooted in their neighborhood, as they represent a common place for everyone, although they remain object of ambivalent policies by the public authorities which often question their legitimacy.

If sometimes public funds have been granted for cultural activities, many community centers have been regularly cleared out with ordinances by the city hall. Especially in the last few years, in the name of security and of the fight against urban degradation, police has often been mobilized under the directives of the Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, who has defined these places as dangerous for the presence of violent people and drug trafficking. What is amusing is that during his adolescence, Salvini himself was member of the so-called “Comunisti Padani”, a former political persuasion of the Northern League and used to frequent the Leoncavallo community center in Milan, probably the most famous in Italy. However, people change their mind over the years, while sometimes the same community centers produce political parties. In the last political elections of 2018, there were wo parties directly linked to two different occupied community centers. The first one is the left-wing Potere al Popolo, born in Je so’ pazzo in Naples; the other one is Casapound Italia from the namesake community center in Rome. The latter has an extreme right political stance, is ambiguously close to the Northern League, and is also known for its motto “Fascists of the third millennium.”

This latter is probably the most interesting aspect to analyze. From the perspective of civil society, indeed, the main criticism concerning these places — leaving aside their political affiliation — is the use of violence on several occasions. However, the same existence of these two parties, although they always get really low voting figures, reflects the two opposite and most extreme poles of the Italian political spectrum. This cleavage in Italian society has emerged periodically in the country’s history, shifting even moderates towards the two extremes and ending up in violent social conflicts. For example, it was the case of the birth of Fascism, during which the new movementists allied themselves with the ruling classes against the Communist and Socialist threats. This clash later evolved in the partisan war and in the Liberation from Fascism. A clash that resurfaced again after the economic boom, with the violent street fights between university students and the rise of terrorist groups such as the Red Brigades and the NAR.

The last time this dormant strife erupted with such violence was probably on the occasion of the tragic G8 protests in Genoa, which were followed by years of harsh conflict between those who were for or against Berlusconi. The ones against were automatically labelled as “Communists” or “Ticks”, while the former Fascists led by an increasingly moderate Gianfranco Fini were the main Cavaliere‘s allies.

Everything that has been written until now is partially real, as there are much more factors and phenomena to consider. Nonetheless, this rough explanation can be useful to understand more in-depth the trends of Italian politics and the current exacerbation of the public debate, a serious indication that nowadays the national trauma of Fascism is still far from being processed.